Friday, August 01, 2008

Checking Out Mirror Neurons At The Grocery Store

A mirror neuron is a neuron which fires both when an animal acts and when the animal observes the same action performed by another (especially conspecific) animal. Thus, the neuron "mirrors" the behavior of another animal, as though the observer were itself acting. These neurons have been directly observed in primates, and are believed to exist in humans and in some birds. In humans, brain activity consistent with mirror neurons has been found in the premotor cortex and the inferior parietal cortex.

Some scientists consider mirror neurons one of the most important findings of neuroscience in the last decade. Among them is V.S. Ramachandran, who believes they might be very important in imitation and language acquisition. However, despite the popularity of this field, to date no plausible neural or computational models have been put forward to describe how mirror neuron activity supports cognitive functions such as imitation.

Furthermore, it is generally accepted that no single neurons can be responsible for the phenomenon. Rather, a whole network of neurons (neuronal assembly) is activated when an action is observed.

The function of the mirror system is a subject of much speculation. . . .

“Mirror Neurons” at Wikipedia

One of the most fun and interesting things about doing these posts every day is that sometimes I will be hashing out different ideas for future posts and, sometimes, all by themselves, posts that have no connection to each other will somehow come together in my unconscious and pop into my conscious as almost fully formed single posts.

That’s what happened with today’s post.

For a few weeks I’ve been trying to think of something to say about mirror neurons. And also for some time I’ve been trying to think of something to say about flirting. It never occurred to me, consciously, to link the two ideas. But a few days ago when I was mentally going through a list of possible flirting stories it occurred to me that one of the stories also could be a mirror neuron story.

Here we go—

At our local grocery story, the checkout girls are all very beautiful. Not just the young ones, but all the checkout girls. I mean, they are gorgeous.

Not too surprisingly when I’m paying for my groceries I also do my share of flirting with the beautiful women.

It’s 2008. Flirting is the only real safe sex there is!

Every now and then there will be a senior citizen woman in line ahead of me or behind me. I’ve noticed, almost every time, that the senior citizen woman will get as much enjoyment out of watching me flirt with the checkout girl as—presumably, hopefully—the checkout girl gets from me flirting with her.

The checkout girl smiles, laughs, blushes. The senior citizen woman smiles, laughs, blushes.

I bet this is mirror neurons at work. I bet the senior citizen woman, watching the checkout girl flirt and react to flirting, is experiencing almost all the same brain chemical releases that the checkout girl is experiencing.

It’s good to have fun. Because sometimes when you are having fun the people around you are having fun, too—second hand!

And that let’s me close this post with the lyrics to a cool BTO song, “Second Hand:”

No reason to get excited
But I feel a change coming in the wind
Everything’s filled with confusion
So let’s start the world over again

And get it second hand
Slightly used
Get it second hand
Carelessly abused

I see you’re looking to find new horizons
But there are footsteps everywhere you go
Somebody else has been before you
Now the sunshine is wilted and froze

I’ll get it second hand
Dazed and confused
Turn back the second hand
I paid all my dues
I got rid of my blues
I’m all fixed up
Watch me talk about it—

[guitar solo coda]

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